Inside Best Fleets – Part 3

After filling out a 110-question questionnaire, covering all aspects of a fleet’s operations, further scrutiny awaits. In November and December, Best Fleets to Drive For administrators conduct exhaustive interviews of all the fleets that have made it through the nomination and questionnaire stages.

Truck News is embedded into this year’s selection process and sat in on two interviews in November and December. The in-depth questionnaires cover: business information; compensation; benefits; human resources strategy; operational strategy; performance and recognition; and work-life balance.

Chief Carriers recognizes military veterans with a special decal.

The follow-up interview gives administrators an opportunity to ask further questions, or to dive deeper into certain responses. While some respondents have mastered the interview process, others struggle to explain their programs. Lisa Mason was charged with handling the interview for Melton Truck Lines. She came into the interview clearly well prepared and able to answer all the questions posed by Mark Murrell, a founder of online training firm CarriersEdge, which launched the program in partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association.

Melton, a flatdeck company based in Tulsa, Okla., runs 1,390 power units and employs 1,337 company drivers. During the interview, Murrell looks for unique programs for drivers and ways the company stands out. One way Melton stands out is through its per-diem payment plan for drivers, amounting to 10 to 14 cents per mile. Per-diems are an emerging trend some fleets are adopting.

Mason explained the company hired a third-party company to administer the per-diem. Another emerging trend among Best Fleets nominees is the move towards some form of guaranteed pay. However, Melton scrapped this program after finding it wasn’t working out for the fleet.

“We found that in some situations, not all, it didn’t give us much of a return and it created, in some scenarios, bad habits,” Mason admitted. “For us, we felt it wasn’t a road we wanted to continue on.”

Melton has a range of programs that have benefited both the company, and its drivers, including profit sharing. It has a progressive benefits plan that last year was modified to recognize same-sex marriages. The company also focuses on driver health, and has invested in InBody measurement machines, which gives insight into a driver’s health. An on-site wellness manager is available to help drivers achieve their fitness goals.

The interview is comprehensive. It even covers pet policies (Melton allows cats and dogs up to 80 lbs), and clothing bonuses (Melton reimburses $25 towards safety shoes). Melton recognizes long-term drivers, and allows those with a million miles under their belts to spec’ their own trucks. The company goes to great lengths to make its drivers lives more convenient, including having a dentist and hairdresser available at the terminal.

The company developed a Life Over the Road class for new hires, which looks to prepare them for the realities of the job.

“A lot of drivers coming into the industry don’t have a clue what they’re getting into,” Mason said. “This is a class we put together to give an honest look at what it’s going to be like.”

Murrell was impressed. “I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before,” he said of the program, after the interview.

Drivers seem to appreciate the initiatives, and have nominated the fleet for the program for six years.

Training trailers are used to educate drivers on load securement at Chief.

Chief Carriers out of Grand Island, Neb., was nominated for the first time this year. But general manager Andy Winkler is no stranger to the Best Fleets program, having steered Grand Island Express into the Top 20 for eight consecutive years.

It was evident during the interview that Chief was taking an aggressive approach to improving its workplace for drivers. It, too, offers a per-diem, of seven cents per mile. It also pays drivers $100 for a clean safety inspection, and offers fuel and referral bonuses. Drivers begin earning home time as soon as they’re hired, and qualify for paid vacation time after 90 days.

The company employs 63 drivers, and had 35 exits over the past year. It embarked on a goal of reducing driver turnover from 65% to 30%, but Winkler admitted it fell short. While the company improved its working environment, it was also struggling to keep up with demand in 2018 and went on a hiring spree.

“You end up hiring your turnovers,” Winkler admitted.

The company has since implemented a pre-hire risk evaluation, that considers the number of jobs drivers have had before considering Chief. “We are looking for more red flags in the applicants themselves,” Winkler explained. “We have quit trying to fool ourselves into thinking we are going to be able to keep this guy longer than he was in his last three jobs. We have slowed down the hiring process and look for more quality people.”

Chief reimburses drivers a portion of their costs for shirts, hats, boots and paid parking. It has also developed an app for drivers and integrated the apps of various truck stops. Drivers’ administrative jobs have been streamlined through the app. Many Chief drivers are out for 14 days at a time, but the company has taken steps to reduce this for drivers serving the surrounding states.

During the holidays, Chief recognizes about 35% of its drivers with rewards. It also offers a formal wellness program.

“Andy has clearly been working on improving the programs since he took over,” Murrell said following the interview.

After the interview, fleets must have a percentage of their drivers complete a survey on the company’s practices. As of Dec. 5, nine fleets had completed all the stages of the program, including driver surveys. Fleets that have come this far have until midnight Dec. 31 to get the driver surveys completed. In early January, program administrators will gather to score the fleets and come up with the Top 20 list. Truck News will be there and will cover that process in Part 4 of this series.

James Menzies

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at james@newcom.ca or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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